Grieving the loss of loved ones is very challenging. Losing loved ones because of medical errors is even more difficult. Unfortunately, 250,000 people in the US on average die every year due to medical errors. Injuries or ailments caused by medical malpractice are now the third-highest cause of death in the US.
49% of medical practitioners in the US have been named in medical malpractice lawsuits. Fortunately, plaintiffs (family members of the malpractice victim) can seek compensation for their grief from the at-fault doctors/institutions. How? Here’s the detailed guide.
What is Medical Malpractice?
The term “medical malpractice” is used to define situations where patients’ injuries/damages are caused by the negligence of healthcare professionals.
What is Failure to Diagnose?
Most medical malpractice lawsuits in the US stem from delayed diagnoses or misdiagnoses of medical conditions, illnesses, or injuries. Failure to diagnose a patient’s condition/injury properly is a popular form of medical malpractice. The basis for such lawsuits is simple – the medical care providers fail to take the steps necessary to formulate accurate diagnoses.
When healthcare professionals make errors while diagnosing a patient’s condition, it leads to delayed/incorrect treatment. Consequently, the patient’s condition may become worse or even fatal. However, misdiagnosis by itself is insufficient to sustain medical malpractice lawsuits.
There are several ways healthcare providers can commit medical negligence while diagnosing illnesses or injuries –
- Lack of Training: Doctors can lack the training/skillset required to make accurate diagnoses of specific conditions.
- Lack of Care: Doctors may make life-threatening mistakes because of carelessness and failure to invest the time needed to avoid diagnostic errors.
- Misdiagnosis: Doctors may detect the wrong illness/symptom to diagnose patients with the wrong conditions. The doctor may even make the right diagnosis but fail to recognize other complications that aggravate the patient’s symptoms.
- Missed or Delayed Diagnosis: Doctors may eventually make the correct diagnoses but not on time. For instance, doctors may allow a patient to leave intensive care, despite the patient suffering from serious underlying conditions. Diagnosing the underlying conditions after significant delay leads to more complications for the patient.
- Failure to Diagnose Related/Unrelated Diseases: The doctor may correctly diagnose one disease but fail to detect related/unrelated conditions.
- Emergency Room Misdiagnoses: The occurrence of misdiagnoses is significantly higher in emergency rooms. Intense work pressure often compels doctors to not invest enough time into investigating different diagnostic options.
Misdiagnosis Lawsuits in Florida
Not all diagnostic errors result in medical malpractice lawsuits. In some cases, patients’ conditions are too complex for even skilled, diligent doctors to make accurate diagnoses. As long as doctors provide competent and reasonable care under the circumstances involved at the time, they can’t be sued.
If their actions fall below acceptable standards of medical care, providers may have legal liabilities for the errors. Bear in mind – the legal liabilities involved in misdiagnosis lawsuits aren’t intended to punish the healthcare providers. They’re intended to provide victims of misdiagnoses with the compensations they deserve for their pain and suffering.
The Burden of Proof in Misdiagnosis Lawsuits
Like all personal injury lawsuits, the burden of proof in misdiagnosis lawsuits falls upon the plaintiff’s shoulders. To hold a doctor legally responsible for his/her diagnostic errors, a plaintiff must prove the following in court –
- Relationship: The existence of the doctor-patient relationship.
- Duty of Care: The doctor had a duty of care to the patient.
- Proof of Negligence: The doctor was unsuccessful at offering the suitable standard of care expected from a reasonably skillful, competent, and trained professional.
- Proof that the Misdiagnosis Harmed the Patient: The doctor’s medical negligence caused the patient to suffer further illnesses, injuries, or other damages.
The burden of proof becomes very heavy for plaintiffs while verifying the last two elements.
Proving the Doctor’s Negligence
Misdiagnoses or delayed diagnoses are not proofs of medical negligence or unreasonable medical care. The key to holding negligent medical professionals liable is determining whether the doctor acted incompetently. That means assessing the doctor’s steps before he/she formulated the allegedly incorrect diagnosis.
Proving the Misdiagnosis Harmed the Plaintiff
The plaintiff must also verify that the medical professional’s negligence caused their injuries/conditions to worsen. They must also prove that had the correct diagnosis been made on time, the patient wouldn’t suffer from additional medical problems and expenses.
How Can Victims of Incorrect Diagnoses Seek Justice in Florida?
All victims of medical malpractice in Florida (including misdiagnosis victims) must follow these steps to launch their malpractice claims –
Collect Medical Records: As per Chapter 766 Section 204 of Florida law, all patients have the right to access their medical records. Collect treatment details, diagnostic details, and other reports created by the doctor in question.
Investigating: The second step is to investigate how the misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis occurred. Ask qualified medical experts to review the medical records. The experts must claim that the facts of the case translate to medical malpractice and the patient’s claims are valid.
Send Notice: Plaintiffs in medical malpractice claims are legally obligated to send the at-fault doctors or medical institutions pre-lawsuit notices. These notices must include details such as – details of previous treatment, the third-party medical expert’s opinion, etc.
Wait for Response: Defendants in medical malpractice cases in Florida have 90 days to respond to notices from victims. They, along with their insurance companies, will investigate the claims and, after 90-days take either of the following steps –
- Accept the medical malpractice claim and make settlement offers.
- Reject the claim.
- Accept the medical malpractice claim but refuse to pay the amount of damages requested by the victim.
Victims of medical malpractice can take either of the following steps after receiving these responses from the defendants –
- Reject the settlement offer.
- Accept the offer but ask for separate arbitration proceedings on the issue of compensation/damages.
- Launch traditional lawsuits for damages.
How Can Medical Malpractice Lawyers Help?
A top medical malpractice law firm in Jacksonville can help victims of misdiagnosis/delayed diagnosis recover all types of damages. Damage caps in medical malpractice cases in Florida are unconstitutional. Hence, top medical attorneys can recover a wide range of damages for victims (both economic and non-economic damages) by –
- Collecting evidence (medical records, bills, letters from medical professionals, etc.)
- Getting expert opinions from specialists in the same area as the doctor being sued for misdiagnosis.
- Proving the damages in court.
- Launching the medical malpractice claim on time as per Florida’s statute of limitations (two years).
Most medical malpractice lawyers will provide free initial consultations to discuss the case with the victims. Victims of misdiagnosis must explore their legal options and seek expert legal assistance. Medical malpractice attorneys help victims navigate the lengthy and complex issues that are common in medical malpractice cases.